Now all I had to do was be very, very good—and very, very lucky.
I quit struggling against the water as it dragged me closer to my death. Instead, I started calculating distances and angles. I also reached for my Ice magic, bringing it to bear, right along with my Stone power. I’d only get one shot at this, and I had to make it count.
“I can’t believe you’re the one who killed Mab,” Salina said, walking through the mud right beside me as if we were out for an evening stroll instead of marching toward my waterlogged demise. “She was so strong. But you? You’re not strong at all, are you, Gin? Or at least not strong enough. Not to keep Owen, and not to keep me from killing you.”
I didn’t bother answering her. There was no point in it. I doubted she’d hear me through her own ego anyway. Instead, my eyes locked on the staff lying in the mud. I was only ten feet away from it now.
Nine . . . seven . . . five . . . three . . . one . . . go!
The vines dragged me right by the staff. I let go of my Stone magic for one precious second, letting the water thorns rip into my skin again, and reached for my Ice power instead, using it to freeze the vines that trapped my right hand down by my side. The water froze, and I sent out another blast, shattering some of the vines—just enough of them.
Beside me, Salina stopped. “What do you think you’re doing? That won’t save you—”
Once my arm was free, I used it to push her as hard as I could. She stumbled back against the fountain. She didn’t hit it very hard, since my blow was so weak and awkward, but it was enough to break her concentration on her water magic, just for a second.
That was all I needed.
The remaining vines loosened around my body, and I threw myself forward and down into the mud, reaching, reaching, reaching for the staff with all the precious Ice magic it contained.
My fingers closed around it just as her magic tightened around me once more.
“Die, bitch!” Salina hissed.
“You first!” I snarled back.
Struggling against the vines, I managed to get to my feet, bring the staff up over my head, and slam it down into the mud—releasing every last bit of the Ice magic stored inside.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, in the space between breaths, everything around me just—crystallized.
The second before the staff plunged into the ground, I reached for all the Ice magic—my magic—stored in the silverstone. I combined that power with what was flowing through my veins, pouring it all into the staff and using the weapon to focus my energy, my will. And when the metal tip of the staff buried itself in the mud, I forced all of the power out of the weapon, lashing out with it as hard, fast, and brutally as I could. The silvery color of my magic filled my vision, blotting out everything else, as though I was standing in the middle of a cold, burning star.
I wasn’t sure if it would be enough to overcome all the water on the ground and still arcing up through the air. I wasn’t sure if I had more magic stored in the staff than Salina did in her bracelet. I wasn’t sure if my magic would be enough to cut off her power source.
But I tried it.
And it worked.
For a few seconds, there was just—cold. This blast of cold that overcame everything else, like a nuclear winter. Ice zipped along the ground, the jets of water froze in midair and glittered like giant ocean waves, and everything became cold, hard, and slick. And the elemental Ice didn’t stop at the edge of the fountains—it kept right on going, spreading out across the lush spring grass like a sheet unrolling, killing the blades instantly, and causing the people still running from the scene to slip and fall as the Ice crystals caught up with and then spread past them.
When it was over, when the silvery light of my magic finally faded away, I slowly stood up, the staff still in my hands. Empty now of all its power, just like me. I’d put every last bit of my elemental magic—Ice and Stone—into that blast. Now, I had nothing left. A wave of exhaustion washed over me, and the staff slipped through my fingers and clattered to the ground.
Behind me, someone let out a low whistle. I whirled around to find Finn casually gliding on his wing tips across the sheet of Ice with all the easy grace of an Olympic figure skater.
“Damn,” he drawled, sliding to a stop beside me. “I knew that staff had some of your Ice magic in it, but not that much. It looks like the middle of January instead of May.”
That was something of an understatement. Ice stretched out as far as the eye could see, glittering like a field of frosty diamonds in the growing darkness. Two inches of Ice encased all of the fountains, and not so much as a single drop of water flowed out of the busted pipes. The ground had also frozen solid and was as slick and glossy as an ice-skating rink.
I’d been the closest to the mermaid fountain, and it had taken the brunt of my attack. The Ice had blasted it into pieces. The mermaid was missing her tail, while her head and long, wavy hair were now just barely clinging to the rest of her body, although she still had that crazy, crazy grin on her face—one that still made me shiver, even now, when it seemed like I’d survived after all.
I let out a shaky breath and ran my trembling hand through my hair. At least, I tried to, but my ponytail had frozen just like everything else had, including my clothes. Jo-Jo had always told me my magic would just keep growing and growing, but sometimes it still amazed me to realize the dwarf was right. Sure, there had been a lot of power stored in the staff, but most of this—most of this had been me.
“No!” a voice screamed. “No, no, no!”
Salina stood in the middle of the garden of elemental Ice, her gaze frantically searching the ground for any sign of free-flowing water that she could use against me. But there wasn’t any. I’d frozen it all with my Ice magic—every last fucking drop.
Salina saw me staring at her, and rage filled her features once more. I thought she might reach for her magic to try to pull the water out of my body, but her eyes caught on something black that was half-buried in the Ice, and she bent down and yanked it free. Too late I realized it was a gun, one that the giants or her guests must have dropped in their rush to escape.
I put myself in front of Finn and instinctively reached for my Stone magic to harden my skin—only this time, I was all out of juice. I’d used up all my magic, and there just wasn’t time to try grab one of my knives and use the Ice magic stored there to form some sort of shield. My spider rune ring was empty too, gone since the battle at the creek yesterday.
I still had on my silverstone vest, but Salina was aiming the gun at my head.
I’d finally beaten Salina, finally used my elemental magic to overpower hers, and now she was going to kill me with a simple gun. Ah, the irony. Going to be the death of me—right now.
Behind me, Finn noticed what was happening. “Gin!” He yelled. “Get out of the way!”
He tried to shove me to one side, but Salina was quicker. She must have realized I was out of magic because she smiled—a smile that was just as crazy as the mermaid’s was.
Gunshots reverberated through the air. I stiffened, waiting for the bullets to slam into my skull and put my lights out for good—but two red splotches blossomed on Salina’s chest instead of mine. My head snapped to the left, and I realized why.
She ran around Finn’s car, a gun clutched in her hands. Salina crumpled to the ground, and Eva rushed over and kicked the water elemental’s gun from her hand, almost falling on the Ice as she did so. Then, Eva stood over Salina, a grim, tortured expression on her face. Finn started forward, but I put my arm out.
“No,” I said. “Let me handle it. You go check on Owen. Salina used her magic to knock him around before I could stop her.”
He nodded and hurried across the Ice as fast as he could to where Owen lay. Kincaid was there too, tending to my lover, but I pushed my worry for Owen out of my mind.
“Eva,” I said in a soft voice, walking toward her, “it’s over now. You can put the gun down.”
A dazed look filled her blue eyes, and it took a few seconds before she actually seemed to hear my words. Eva shook her head, and her hand tightened around the gun. “No, it’s not over yet. I haven’t killed her yet.”
I glanced down. I’d thought Eva had hit Salina square in the chest, but she’d only winged her in the shoulder and arm instead. One wound looked like a through-and-through in her upper left bicep, while the other had punched into her skin just below her collarbone. Painful wounds—but not fatal ones.
I looked at Salina a second longer, making sure the water elemental wasn’t going to get up, but she only moaned, clutched her shoulder, and rocked back and forth on the ground. So I reached over and put my frozen fingers on top of Eva’s hand, the one that was still holding the gun.
“It’s okay, Eva,” I said in that soft, soothing voice again. “You did it. You got her. You saved me and Finn. It’s over now.”
Eva shook her head, mutely telling me that it wasn’t over, but this time she let me lower the gun, slip it out of her hand, and tuck it against the small of my back right next to my knife. I put my arm around Eva, carefully hugging her to my chest, despite the fact my clothes were as cold, stiff, and frozen as everything else was.
A sob escaped her throat, then another one, then another one. Her whole body trembled with emotion—so much emotion—as wave after wave of it lashed through her. All the terror, all the helplessness, all the rage she’d felt because of what Salina had done to her and how she’d threatened to hurt Owen and Kincaid.
I held her and let her cry, let her scream, let her beat her fists against my back, even as I stroked her hair and murmured nonsense words to her, telling her it was okay. Sometimes there was more comfort in lies than the truth.
Finally, Eva’s sobs died down, and she drew back and looked at me. Tears kept streaming down her face.
“Please, Gin,” she whispered. “Please.”
I nodded and stepped away from her. By this point, Bria and Xavier had worked their way over to us. Xavier grabbed Eva’s shoulders and pulled her away from me and Salina. Bria helped him. Looking at me as she passed, my sister tilted her head the tiniest bit. I nodded back and grabbed the silverstone knife from against the small of my back, ready to end this once and for all.
Footsteps shuffled behind me. I turned to see Finn and Kincaid helping Owen walk toward me. Owen held a hand to his side, as though he had some broken ribs. A bloody gash marred his forehead and his face was swollen from the giants’ blows, but other than that, he looked okay. Some of the tightness in my chest eased. He was okay.
Salina caught sight of him too, and she stretched out her bloody hand toward him.
“Owen,” she rasped. “Help me. Please. You were right, and I was wrong. I’m sorry. So sorry. I’ll do whatever you want me to. I promise I will.”
I bit back a bitter laugh. She wasn’t sorry—she wasn’t sorry for one damn bit of it, except that I’d stopped her and she hadn’t gotten the revenge she wanted.
But Salina’s plea had the desired effect on Owen. My lover turned to me, aching pain, regret, and sadness in his eyes.
“Gin . . .” he said. “Don’t. Let Bria take her away. She’s sick. You know she’s sick.”
I did know that Salina was sick and that it could have just as easily been me lying there on top of the Ice instead of her. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me—not at all. Mab had murdered my family; I’d felt the same pain, loss, and rage that Salina had. Maybe it would have consumed me the way it had her if Fletcher hadn’t helped me channel my anger, if he hadn’t taught me his code, if he hadn’t trained me how to control my emotions and do what was necessary no matter what.
For a moment, I considered walking away. Just turning, walking away across the Ice, and letting Bria, Xavier, and the other cops haul Salina off to Ashland Asylum. But that wouldn’t end things. It would just postpone them—and someone else would get hurt when Salina escaped or was finally cut loose.
I looked at Owen and then my gaze went over to the cops and Eva, who was still crying. Across the field of Ice, her eyes met mine, blue on gray, and I saw all the innocence she’d lost tonight—all the innocence she’d lost all those years ago to Salina. I saw the worry and the fear and the waking nightmare that just wouldn’t end as long as Salina was alive.
And I made my choice.
Maybe I’d made it the night Eva had first told me about Salina, the night she’d compared her to Mab. Maybe I’d known what I would do even back then—and what it would cost me. I didn’t know if it was right or if it was wrong, but it was my choice, and I made it, the way I had so many other hard, ugly ones over the years.
“Gin,” Owen said again, an edge in his voice now. “Don’t.”
I drew in a breath, knowing there was no going back. This time, I looked at Finn instead of my lover.
“Keep him back however you have to,” I said, not quite echoing the orders Salina had issued to her guards earlier tonight.
Owen let out a curse and started forward, but Kincaid held on to his arm. A second later, a distinctive click cut through the night air. Owen looked down in disbelief at the gun Finn had pressed to his side.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Owen,” Finn said in a regretful tone. “But we both know I will. So why don’t you just stand still while Gin does her thing.”
“Gin,” Owen said a final time, that same plea in his voice.
I stared at my lover a moment, looking into his beautiful violet eyes. Then I turned away.
Behind me, I heard Owen let out another curse and start struggling with Finn and Kincaid, but I shut the sounds out of my mind.
I dropped to a knee beside Salina. The water elemental drew in short, ragged breaths, her exhalations turning to frost given how cold the air was from my blast of magic. Blood had already frozen on the Ice beneath her body, and her blond hair fanned out around her in lovely waves, as though she were underwater.
Salina looked at me, then turned her head to stare at Owen. She smiled at him, that crazy, crazy love still shining in her eyes, before she looked at me once more.
“I won’t stop,” Salina rasped in a low voice only I could hear, as the blood continued to pump out of her gunshot wounds. “I can’t stop—ever.”
“I know, sweetheart,” I said softly. “I know.”
And then I leaned over and cut her throat.
“No!” Owen shouted. “No! No! No!”
But it was too late, and the cut I’d made in Salina’s neck was too deep. She gasped, arched her back, and clawed at the wound, but she knew it was over, just like I did. Salina looked at me, something almost like relief flashing in her blue-green eyes, then lolled her head to the side to stare at Owen. She smiled at him a final time and held out a bloody hand, reaching for him—still reaching for him, despite everything that had happened, everything she’d done, everything that had passed between them.